Reclining Buddhas smile peacefully under tropical skies in this famously laid-back, disarmingly friendly nation. Sleepy towns showcase elegant Buddhist architecture and flaking colonial villas, while beyond lies cascading waterfalls, fairytale mountains and vast jungles. No trip to Indochina is complete without exploring Laos’ rich cultural treasures and stunning natural beauty.
Even the mighty Mekong River seems to relax into a slower pace here, its relentless flow meandering between dramatic karst mountains on its way south into Cambodia. Landlocked between its more-travelled neighbours, Laos exudes a refreshingly toned-down charm, an easygoing atmosphere in contrast to the exhilarating bedlam of Bangkok or Hanoi. That’s not to say Laos is short of bizarre and unique surprises; the unexplained hollowed monoliths on the eerie Plain of Jars, and the ancient psychedelic Buddha statues at Xieng Khuan (‘Spirit City’) are curious relics of ancient Laotian civilisations. Off the beaten track, luxury lodges provide rare access to everything from colourfully dressed hill tribes to spectacular subterranean river systems.
Best explored at a leisurely pace, Laos’ cultural hub, Luang Prabang, has rightfully earned the reputation of an essential pulse-slower on the Southeast Asia circuit. Ochre villas of the French colonial era jostle with the soaring roofs of tranquil temples, under swaying palms that move to the sonorous beat of Buddhist drums. Further south, languid Vientiane, the nation’s capital, provides delightful cuisine, wide boulevards, flamboyant architecture, and serene riverside spots to enjoy a cool Beerlao, overlooking Thailand on the opposite bank. From characterfully restored accommodation, head out into the wilderness to bathe with elephants, plunge into gushing aquamarine waterfalls, trek shrine-studded hills or drift idly down the Mekong on a traditional longboat. Or, for complete relaxation, hit the hammock in Laos’ 4000 islands, where days are filled with fishing, tubing, cross-island strolls or gourmet picnics by picturesque waterfalls. Easily accessed via Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east or Cambodia to the south, we’ll help you tailor adequate time into your Indochina adventure to encounter Laos’ captivating sights.
Start your day early to see saffron-robed Buddhist monks collecting alms in exquisite Luang Prubang during the daily Tak Bat ritual. Witness a traditional Baci ceremony. Quit the city to cruise down the Mekong in a private river boat, stopping to see traditional village life unfold. Venture deep inside river caves on a raft and ride the rapids under imposing limestone cliffs. Explore hill tribe markets and visit a weaving community to meet local artisans. Get an introduction to regional dishes with a cookery class held by a local chef. Get properly away from it all on a 4x4 or motorbike journey or head out in foot with a local guide to trek some of Southeast Asia’s most unspoiled forests.
The best time to visit Laos is during the dry season from October to April. However, the wetter months also allow country-wide exploration but with fewer crowds although you might struggle to reach the remotest areas. While exploring Laos, consider incorporating neighbouring Thailand too, or adding on other Southeast Asian destinations such as Vietnam and Cambodia for an epic adventure.
Highlights of Indochina
18 days from £7,220 pp incl. flights
Stay in the region's most luxurious accommodation, enjoy excursions including an overnight cruise at Halong Bay, cooking course in Hoi An and traditional Mekong boat trip, amongst other tours on this truly special itinerary.
A river journey through Indochina
13 days from £8,985 pp incl. flights
Sail the mighty Mekong River to discover riverside monasteries and floating markets linking Ho Chi Minh City with the golden palaces of Phnom Penh before ending with Cambodia’s national treasure and icon, Angkor Wat.